How to help someone who is dying if he or she is a practising Buddhist.
Now, if somebody is a practising Buddhist, then the most important thing is to inspire that person to practise and to keep on practising what he or she is good at or has already learned. So therefore, one of the most important things is to create a situation in which this dying person is both reminded of and inspired by their practice. Sometimes, if it’s possible, I think it is very good to try to involve their own teachers, or dharma brothers and sisters and sangha members. Then to create an inspiring environment, like a shrine or some photos or thankas or recordings of the teachings that inspire the dying person. Do recitations or songs, mantras or dohas, and inspire the person in whatever way you can.
I think that we cannot have a very strict rule that we have to do one, two, three, four, five, or six practices, because it’s up to the person, because some people like recitations, like pujas, rituals and things like that and some people have lots of resistance to them. Some people like thankas and religious paintings and things like that and some people don’t like them so it has to be according to the need of the person. But the main understanding is to remind the person of the practice that he or she is doing and not to introduce a new kind of practice, not that you cannot do it, but it would be easier if the person is just reminded of what they know, because that reminding is sometimes important. And then of course sangha members coming together and doing the practice with the person, maybe with inspiring music, or inspiring teachings, or inspiring mantras and songs of realisation, or whatever helps, I think that’s also very important. If the person who is dying is a vajrayana practitioner, it’s usual to receive empowerments, teachings and blessings as well, and if the person is already a phowa practioner they can continue with that.
Otherwise, phowa is done for the person by a lama or other qualified person only at the last stage, when the signs of dying are fully apparent, such as when the outer breath has stopped. Only then.
But before that, reciting mantras or names of the Buddhas, names of the lamas can also be recited at the time of dying.
Also, if the person is in the final death process, then a lama or a dharma practitioner or dharma friend, can repeat a practice, in his or her ear. This can be any practice that the dying person is actually doing themselves, or could be something like introducing the nature of the mind, Mahamudra instructions, Dzogchen instructions or a reminder of the Bardo instructions; this is also very important.
If it is possible, read the books of the bardo and of course Dewachen practices and other things that will encourage the person [to focus on what is happening].
And maybe you also have to think about the person’s family members as well.
Actually, one of the most important things is to make the person realise impermanence, that everybody dies and you have to let go of all the people that you love, the world, your home, everything familiar that you are attached to, including your family. You should prepare to go, because everybody has to do that, there’s nobody who doesn’t have to die and sooner or later everybody dies. Some people die a little bit later, some people die a little bit earlier, and to really know this is the most important preparation. Everybody, including yourself has to face death so you had better be ready for it; and also that it’s not completely the end, it’s just a process, like life is a process, birth was a process, death is a process so therefore you have to make yourself ready to go through this process and of course if you have less fear, go through it with confidence, with a positive state of mind, then you will do it better.
So, therefore calm the mind, be prepared to let go of everything, and then be ready to leave because everything that is experienced, actually is a manifestation of one’s mind, there’s nothing more than that. Life is also a manifestation of mind, how death is experienced is very much based on how everything in life is experienced and not on what actually happens. So it will be the case during the dying process as well as afterwards. With this kind of understanding, if a person really understands the nature of their mind there’s nothing to be feared. So in whatever way it can be done, try to bring this sort of confidence, bring this kind of positive way of looking at things, with a little bit of fearlessness. And then concentrate on the practice of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It is important for the person to experience what is not right and what is going wrong if they are able to. Worrying about what other people might do or not do, attachment to things, worrying and things like that, it’s too late, it doesn’t work. So these kinds of preparation would be really good.
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche